For the third Friday in a row, reporter Robin Finn "Public Lives" profile celebrated a liberal activist, sidestepping the usual journalistic niceties like balance. This time, it's local contractor and global warming paranoid Richard Cherry of Queens ("A Contractor Who Was Green Before Green Was Cool").
Finn applied the usual hagiography: "Decades before Al Gore revved into documentary scold mode and transferred the green state of mind into fashionably green activism with his Academy-Award-winning film, 'An Inconvenient Truth,' there was Richard M. Cherry. Never heard of him?
"Mr. Cherry, 64, is one of 15 finalists, and the only local finalist, for the $100,000 Purpose Prize, an award presented by Civic Ventures, a nonprofit group dedicated to promoting the abilities of people older than 50, to socially conscientious entrepreneurs 60 or older. That he is a leader or, as he puts it, an envelope pusher in energy conservation, can be proved in a snap: in 2006 alone, he says he facilitated an energy conscious rehab of 8,000 metropolitan area homes and apartments, inhabited mostly by low-income residents, that yielded $2.5 million in utility bill reductions and, here's the truly green part, a whopping 10,000 fewer tons of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere.
"Hold the applause; it would only embarrass him. Mr. Cherry is the type who keeps a 30-gallon fish tank in his office because piscine activity soothes him, and he identifies with polar bears because they have grappled with, and adapted to, global change. In other words, the bears remind him of him. There are two of them - in toy form - asleep on his office sofa on a cheerless industrial block on the outskirts of Long Island City, Queens. Mr. Cherry, married with two adult daughters, is in his shirtsleeves - short shirtsleeves. Keeping tabs on his personal carbon footprint means working in an office with a stingy cooling system."
Finn, like Times reporter Anthony DePalma, helped sell the silly idea that environmental apocalypse is imminent - unless we change our light bulbs, in which case the world can still be saved. But if the Earth truly is teetering on the edge of apocalypse, wouldn't the situation demand changes just a tad more drastic than getting rid of incandescent bulbs?
"In 20 years as a housing specialist with the since-disbanded New York Urban Coalition and 13 more at his own firm, Mr. Cherry has zoned in on what once seemed An Incomprehensible Truth: Energy conservation not only saves money, it can help save the planet. When he set up the first team to manage the federal Weatherization Assistance Program 30 years ago, the focus was on reducing energy use to save money, not on eco-sensitivity. 'People would laugh at me when I talked about what caulking windows, upgrading heating systems, switching from incandescent to fluorescent lighting, and buying energy-efficient appliances could do for the environment,' he says. 'It was a hard sell. But I think the reaction to Al Gore's film proves the country is ready for the message.'"